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30 years for downtown make-over?
Three years of effort to develop a plan to give downtown Ceres new life came to an end last week with the Ceres City Council giving its approval. But Brian Briggs, the city of Ceres Redevelopment and Economic Development Manager, says the real work is ahead.

The city will do is part in promoting the plan for the 121-acre area but the real traction will have to come from the private sector.

City officials, with the help of the community, developed a plan that, in theory, will take 15 to 20 years and millions of dollars to turn downtown into a destination replete with entertainment, shopping and office space. In adopting the plan last week, Mayor Chris Vierra suggested it could take three to five decades to seeing downtown the way the plan envisions.

A key component of the plan is to introduce 495 more residential units and 1,678 corresponding downtown dwellers in the downtown area, said Briggs.

The big draw to downtown - if reality synchronizes with the plan - would be a movie theater complex, or cineplex. Briggs believes that a cineplex of between 8 to 11 screens would be a chief draw to downtown. Because downtown is covered with existing buildings, significant redevelopment via a wrecking ball would have to take place to accommodate such a structure. The most fitting location for a cineplex would be in the area bounded by Fourth Street, El Camino Avenue, Park Street, Sixth Street and Lawrence Street. The location is best because it would be seen from the freeway.

Briggs said redevelopment efforts in the downtowns of Redwood City and Santa Cruz didn't take off until movie theaters were put into place.

Briggs said the private sector would have to become a partner since the CRA does not have eminent domain powers.

He said the city has been contacted by two theater operators about opening up a theater in Ceres and that both felt "Ceres is an ideal location for a movie theater," said Briggs.

"Downtown businesses will benefit from spillover spending from local movie goers and those who come from nearby cities," the report reads.

Besides a theater and residential uses, the plan seeks to treat Fourth Street as a "Main Street" with mixed use combinations of professional and retail offices on the ground floor and residential units on second floors.

The plan outlines that office spaces in a mixed use format would be appropriate for Central Avenue south of Whitmore Avenue and also on Second and Third streets.

An expanded civic center, more parking, bike and pedestrian pathways, alley parking and gateway entrances at Fourth and Whitmore and at Fourth and El Camino are included in the plan.

The city plans to develop marketing strategies to get developers, retailers and cinema operators to buy into the plan. Briggs said the city and its redevelopment agency are expected to improve infrastructure, such as sewer, water and storm drain systems. Briggs said he is unsure when the infrastructure will be upgraded but will recommend that it be accomplished in phases. The city will also reconfigure parking, and develop some sites which it already owns.

Not all were excited about the plan. Len Shepherd asked: "What will happen to the old buildings ... when you make this into another downtown Santa Cruz?" "I"d like to see something a little less 'yuppified.' It's a quaint little town - I Kind of like the way it is."

Shepherd expressed doubt that enough private money will be available in the next 20 years.

Councilman Guillermo Ochoa later addressed Shepherd's comments stating that when the economy turns around downtown will develop into something that will benefit the next generation.

Jim Delhart, who owns a number of commercial buildings on Fourth Street, wanted the council to explain how he should treat his buildings since the plan calls for a cineplex on his block. He also accused the city of enacting a series of business unfriendly roundabouts and tree grates with past redevelopment efforts.

Mayor Chris Vierra said the blueprint was a "long time in the making." He suggested that the document would probably take 30 to 50 years "realistically." Vierra noted that downtown has already benefitted from the vision of the city to build the Community Center on Fourth Street as well as the private rehabilitation of the 1903 Clinton Whitmore Mansion a block away.

"I think we want to weave in our historic past in with our future," Vierra said in response to Shepherd's comments.

He cautioned that development will solely depend on the economy and private interest in the plan.

The plan will serve as a tool for redevelopment activities in the region bounded by El Camino on the west, Whitmore Avenue on the north, Ninth Street to the east and Park Street to the south. The "blueprint" sets development standards, land use regulations and identifies circulation improvements and infrastructure needs.

In October 2007 the Ceres City Council ordered a $350,000 development plan to help turn downtown Ceres into a destination spot. The Berkeley firm of Design, Community & Environment (DC&E) was hired to develop the 20-year vision as well as an implementation strategy to tap into the potential of downtown Ceres. Weighing in on the future of downtown were merchants and residents.